I've mostly been offering modest praise for Obama's climate plan, but there are some notable oversights. While it addresses U.S. coal-fired plants through EPA regulations, it neglects another, equally large aspect of the coal problem. Specifically, I'm talking about coal mining, leasing, transport, and export in the U.S. Northwest. There's a bad situation there and it's getting worse.
The Powder River Basin stretches across southeast Montana and northeast Wyoming. It is rich with low-grade (dirty) coal. Most of that coal is on public land, owned by you and me. What you and I are doing at the moment, via the Bureau of Land Management in the Department of the Interior, is leasing the mineral rights on those public lands to coal companies for pennies on the dollar.
Domestic demand for coal is declining (and will decline further once EPA regulations are in place), so what these coal companies want to do is start shipping the coal by rail to the West Coast and from there exporting it to China and other coal-hungry developing countries, where it sells for prices up to seven times higher than in the U.S.
It's a sweet deal for the coal companies: buy low, sell high. But it's a raw deal for everyone else and a disaster for the climate.